Articles, Blog

Researcher Talk: Dear Sirs: I Believe You are Wasting Your Time

Welcome to the National Archives and today’s researcher talk, I’m Richard Hunt Director for the Center for Legislative Archives the host for the researcher talk series. The program itself is the brainchild of doctor Richard McCulley the Center’s first historian and one of our honored guest today. Welcome Richard. I want to remind you that our next talk will
be on December 1 the two historians from the State Department William McAllister and Joshua Botts will talk about the Extraordinarily Valuable Foreign Relations of United States series. Which presents the official documentary history of US foreign policy from 1861 up through the Reagan administration. And working on George H. W. Bush now. Today we have the good fortune to be joined by Carol
Tilly associate professor of School of information Sciences at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Her talk has the beautifully dismissive title
Dear Sirs: I believe you’re wasting your time. How quaint in today’s political lexicon. I can assure you that you’re not wasting your
time today. Prof. Tilly will discuss her research in the records of the Senate Judiciary committee special subcommittee on juvenile delinquency. The research supports her book project Children, Comics and Print Culture the Cultural History of Comics Reading in the mid-20th century. Doctor Tilly was be for part of the hour and
leave time for part of your questions. Please be in mind that this is being recorded
for the YouTube channel to serve that audience and we ask that you wait for the microphone questions at the end. Prof. Tilly?>>Dr. Tilley: From May through October 1954 the
lettecrs arrived at a steady pace. Some came on colorful stationary, sometimes that stationary seemed more befitting of a mash note than a protest letter. Some letters bore multiple signatures. Others were signed anonymously like this one
from a comics fan. Some came on pre-posted cards. Others ran for pages. Some writers used business stationery and formal letter writing conventions seemingly in an attempt to disguise their ages. Other writers ages ages told their ages out
right although often their handwriting and spelling would’ve betrayed them anyway in total nearly 500 letters reached the offices of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on juvenile delinquency during the six-month period the lions share of them were written by young people the ages of ten and 20 almost all of them comics readers on almost all of them protesting the subcommittee’s investigation of a purported link between comics reading and juvenile delinquency. The writers feared that the government would
take away their beloved comics. On my talk today we’ll take a closer look
at these letters and the writers not so much for the purposes of a deep analysis but to
help you understand something about the scope of their content and the role they play in
helping us understand mid-century US social and cultural history. Out of necessity I want to provide some brief context
for them and finally especially for those of you who work here at the Archives I want
to help you understand a little more about the collection of which these letters are
part. In the years following the end of World War two, America American youth love of all things comics, boomed. Comic books originally conceived in the early 1930s
as promotional pamphlets that repackaged newspaper comic strips capture the imaginations of
young readers especially after the introduction of superheroes and other original adventure, humor and science-fiction content in the late 1930s Surveys of comics readership by both marketers
and reading researchers found nearly all children boys and girls read comic books regularly. New comics sales rose tenfold in little more
than a decade rocketing from 10 million copies monthly in 1940 to nearly 100 million copies
monthly by 1954. If you want to do the math that’s equivalent
of eight comic books a year sold to every person then living in the United States. Or more than 30 comics sold a year to every school-age
child in the United States. This pervasive readership spurred some adults to action as they feared comics would seduce child readers to lives of illiteracy and violence. Literary critic and author sterling North
issued one of the first salvos in the campaign against comics in 1940 warning that comics quote “hypodermic injection of sex and murder ” would lead, quote “to a coming generation even more ferocious than the present one”. It’s strange to think about the greatest generation
in those terms. Even the future US poet laureate Stanley Kunitz got in on the comics shaming game proposing that the comics could, quote, spawn only a generation of storm troopers and course audacious supermen unquote. During the war years adults were mostly
too preoccupied with more pressing concerns to worry about comics. But that changed in part because comics changed. And the immediate postwar years comics publishers
sought to hold onto more mature readers. So they expanded comics titles to include
stories of criminal romantic and macabre themes in the late 1940s and into the 1950s. An earlier warning gained urgency. Teachers, librarians and other adults renewed their fight against comics throughout the country rallies, legislation speeches and bonfires
accompanied adults concerns. The apex came in the spring of 1954. First with the publication of psychiatrist Frederick Wertham’s anti-comics study Seduction of the Innocent. And second, with three days of hearings by the United States Senate on the relationship between comics reading and juvenile delinquency. This is from Binghamton New York in the late 1940s. First I want to mention a little bit about
Wertham. Frederick Wertham was a German born US psychiatrist who studied under Adolf Meyer at Johns Hopkins 1920s. He followed that with work at Bellevue, Queens General Hospital and in private practice. He frequently consulted for New York courts. He had enjoyed popular success as the author of the forensic study Dark Legend a study in murder. And again for A Show of Violence in the 1940s. Beginning in 1946, he had also received favorable
attention in the national press for helping found and operate the Lafarge clinic Harlem’s first social welfare and psychiatric clinic. Yet in late 1947, when he testified for the
defense in a hearing by the US Post Office about whether the nudist Magazine Natural
Herald was obscene, Wertham’s attention shifted somewhat inexplicably from issues such as forensics, psychoses and racial prejudice to comics. While Wertham had no problem with nudist magazines
those were relatively healthy he felt he believed comics were violent sadistic and dangerous to the welfare of young readers. Wertham wrote and spoke about comics recently
in both popular and scholarly settings. His ideas about the medium are neatly synthesized
in his 1954 book seduction of the innocent where he proposed that comic books are products
of the deceitful industry luring young readers with colorful pages, ubiquitous placement
and inexpensive cover prices. Crime comics in particular impaired young
readers moral emotional and social development. In Wertham’s mind the industry and its supporters he would characterize them perhaps the sycophants were duplicitous. They claimed the comics had educational value or promoted harmless fantasies while those same comics pedaled lurid and sadistic stories which primed readers for lives of crime illiteracy, neuroses and more. The book contains numerous examples of mischief and depravity of various young people he and his colleagues examined in psychiatric practice. or read about in news reports, some, but not all of them
read comics. Wertham proposed restricting the sales of
comic books, especially crime comic books to readers age 15 and over now that sounds, superficially, not so bad but Wertham cast his net widely. A Superhero fighting a villain, a cartoon-ish anthropomorphized animal smacking it’s pal and visual depictions of true crime were for Wertham all crime comics. In his estimation 85 to 90 percent of comics
that were published were crime comics. Now the month following seductions release, Senators Robert Hendrickson, Estes Kevauver and Thomas Hennings presided over televised comic book hearings
that featured testimony for more than a dozen people including Helen Meyer who was vice
president of Dell comics Walt Kelly the creator of Pogo comics tricks and then
president of the national cartoonist Society, and Bill Gaines, publisher of entertaining
comics group or EC. During the preceding year the subcommittee under the direction of Richard Clendenin canvassed social workers, juvenile court judges, law-enforcement
officials and comics industry professionals to assess the extent to which crime and other
comics books encouraged juvenile delinquency. The subcommittee was tasked with investigating
not only comics books but also other forms of mass communication such as television and it held
separate hearings for each medium. For the comics portion of its charge, the subcommittee
built on an earlier Senate investigation led by Estes Kefauver in 1950 into the publication
and distribution of comic strips and comic books. That Senate committee probed the impact
of crime comics on juvenile delinquency as part of its broader investigation into organized crime. Senator Estes Kefauver commissioned Wertham to serve as a consultant for the 1950 investigation. And Wertham was eager to participate at least
at first. Ultimately however Wertham grew frustrated with Kefauver and the committee as the reports that came out concluded that there was little evidence
to connect comic book reading with criminal behavior. And despite his disapproval of the outcome
of the 1950 investigation Fredric Wertham did testify in the 1954 hearings in front of the
committee here. He represented what Clendenin staff deemed quote “the
extreme or conservative position among psychiatrists.” As such his testimony balanced the more moderate
position authored by doctor Harris text who directed the Bureau of mental health services for the Children’s Court of New York and a liberal position held by doctor Loretta Bender who
was a senior psychiatrist at Bellevue and a consultant for DC comics the publishers
of Superman Batman Wonder Woman and other popular titles. The testimony of these latter two psychiatrists
is seldom cited in the scholarly or popular record. Instead, Wertham emerged as a star
witness holding court in his imposing German accented English about his clinical evidence
against comics. There was a second star witness though although
he was not in the committee’s good graces. Testifying immediately following Wertham in
the afternoon of April 21, 1954 Bill Gaines heard Wertham recapitulate the views on comics
he had rehearsed in speeches and writing over the past six years. Gaines seemed eager to offer a retort to the
psychiatrist position and a panel of senators and their counsel seemed eager to spar
with Gaines. In the seven years since his father Max Gaines’ unexpected death Bill Gaines had transformed EC from a publisher of innocuous and sometimes
educational children comics such as picture stories from the Bible to one of the vanguard EC titles
including shock suspense stories front-line combat and weird fantasy featured fresh artwork
and riveting stories filled with black humor surprise twists and authentic detail. Aimed at an audience of more mature readers, EC’s line up also featured plenty of gore as well as challenges to prevailing
social norms. All told these comics found solid readership
among teens and adult readers who were eager for something different, something other than
maybe Bugs Bunny and Superman. Moreover the company responded to readers
ideas by printing letters from fans and foes in the pages of its comics. Sponsoring the EC fan addicts club that facilitated
the development of a visible network of readers and inspiring some of the first comics related
fanzines. The subcommittee took issue with the content
and presentation of EC stories as well as its publishers rationale. Bill Gaines had printed both a satirical take
on the whole comics conflagration Are you a Red Dupe which proposed that any restrictions on comics were
a communist conspiracy and that editorials urging EC’s readers to share their views on
comics with the subcommittee. I have to say that by the end of Bill Gaines
testimony and he was hepped up on amphetamines from having not slept the night before he
had made both his forceful plea for the power of comics and he had also made a panel
of senators disgusted with his assertiveness flippancy. Probably not the best combination. Most young people living in the United States in 1954 had never known lives about the presence of comic books. Although comics had never been solely a child’s medium children consumed comics insatiably during the 1940s and 50s with as many as
95 percent of elementary school age kids reading comics and 80 percent of secondary
school-aged kids reading comics regularly. Comics were the defining cultural product
of young people’s lives during this time period. The phenomenal sales of new comic books and
the equally pervasive trading and resale of those comics served as partial testament
to this truth. The variety of comics, related media and tie-ins such as radio serials along with abundant consumer products from lunchboxes to bedsheets,
decoder rings to ray guns that were also available in the decades gives further evidence
to that popularity. And so it should come as no surprise that
some youth were moved to defend comics in letters to the US senate subcommittee. The EC editorial which was printed in its
fan-addict bulletin as well as in its individual comics titles provided readers with talking points among them comics publishers will go out of business if the US government intervenes. A small group of do-gooders are leading the
charge against comics. But some people believed comics warped the
minds of readers. That parenting, not comics is at the heart
of juvenile delinquency. That the Senate needs to hear from real comics
readers. That freedom of the press is at stake. I think it’s worth noting that none of these
assertions was fundamentally untrue. Even more so, and I think admirably perhaps
Gaines and EC urged readers to write the Senate regardless of their views on this matter. Gaines believed that their voices mattered
more than whether or not they supported EC’s position. Not surprisingly, many of the letters the
subcommittee received borrowed heavily on the language of both ECs special editorial
and the Red Dupe. There are dozens of mentions of Robert Felix
Rita Kane David Abramson, all of whom were experts quoted in ECs special editorial. Letter writers frequently referred to do-gooders
who’d probably never read comics who were waging a war that threatened to turn the US
into a communist state like Russia where Free Press does not exist many writers urged the
Senators to pay attention to them because they, the readers, are the real experts on comics. Its perhaps this rhetorical copying that led
comics scholar Amy Nyberg who was the only scholar I’ve identified other than the me to discuss
these letters that led her to dismiss them with less than a page of discussion. I should note that I’m a huge fan of Amy’s
work. But in this case I’m thankful that she gave
the letters a pass. But some letter writers put their own spin
on the special editorial’s talking point. For instance this is Herman Burton who is
president of his Dallas Texas area high school’s Key club and he wrote the subcommittee a two-page
letter in which he informed them quote I have read love hate crime passion war science fiction
and horror books those people who want them thrown away or discontinued well, they are
either killjoys or party poopers or people with warped minds or communists. He signed it – yours for speeding this silly investigation along a little faster ” Similarly the trio of letter-writers from right here
in Washington DC translated from the editorials talking points into slang which they, helpfully, not only for the Senators but for me translated. Quote “we as mad comics fans wish to state our opinions on all comics. We think the comics a harmless entertainment
and will not work our minds. We also think that although some may be all frantic and far from the most almost all of them come on real cool-like, and besides, those hubcaps who are complaining about the literature have never even penned one”. A sense of humor and playfulness abounds in
the letters. Peggy Elder from California wrote quote “comic books have for quite some time provided a source of worry for those who must indulge
in worrying about something”. A Mr. JNR Beloit Kansas told the subcommittee “if you convince me that when most the criminals are devoured by werewolves that that makes
junior wish to be a delinquent then and only then will I believe in having horror comics
stand “. John Robertson from South Carolina promised the subcommittee that ” if you ban
comics books the FCBAOA storm troopers that would be the future comic books artists of America
will storm the White House and steal every one of Ike’s golf clubs “. A Minnesota high
schooler got in a humorous jab on superheroes comics I myself are against some comics trash like captain Marvel
Superman plastic man wonder woman and such he wrote is positively revolting. Funny comic books are just moneymakers for big Hollywood type artists. And one of my favorite lines came from a letter
written by Dick Killen who I’m happy to say is here in the audience today. He says, I’ve read certain bestsellers which
contained so much dirt that you could grow and Oaktree between the pages. So thank you Dick for that line. Of course, there is plenty of sincerity in
these letters too. Often reflecting in awareness of greater realities. For instance, Leslie Hardy Junior wrote the
world is bad enough with H-bomb’s and McCarthy hearings that such bunk on comics books is
crazy. I ought to be able to tell good from bad even
if I am only 14. An anonymous writer acknowledged the specter
of war more directly. Writing “in the near future most of us shall
be in the armed services, some will be killed, maybe even me. But don’t take away our fun and the freedom
of the press just because you have no sense of humor doesn’t mean nobody else has”. And one of the adult writers and there were
some, this one was a young African-American man in his 20s demonstrated the value of comics
during his time in the service. He wrote I served three years in the Air Force
two of them in Alaska. While overseas these books seemed food medicine
morale builders to those at barren places. ” In some ways though sincerity wasn’t enough. In late 1954, Time magazine carried a brief
article highlighting psychoanalyst Robert Lindner’s theories on teenagers. Now Lindner is more popularly known as the author of Rebel Without a Cause the hypnoanalysis of a criminal psychopath and the same book on which the 1955 film starring
James Dean is based. He shared with Wortham and other contemporaries
including perhaps a few members of the Senate subcommittee and their team a fear that that teenagers were unnaturally debauched perverse and sadistic. Lindner opined the youth of the world today
is touched with madness literally sick with an aberrant condition of mind formally confined
to a few distressed souls but now epidemic over the earth. Undoubtedly the young people who wrote
to the subcommittee were aware of this wider societal perception of their behavior and
lack of confidence. Thomas Hein proposed in his popular history
of teenagers in the United States despite the growing middle-class acculturation accompanying
the rising percentage of young people attending high school, ” adults looked at the children
and saw not a blossoming bourgeoisie but rather an alien culture in their midst.” By necessity many
of the young writers who would not be enfranchised to vote until age 21 had to situate themselves
as competent respectable teens who were above the influence of comics. Thus we see many of the letter writers refer
to their academic achievement and the moral uprightness while also acknowledging that
they were children not adults. For example Ron Baumgardner opened his correspondence to the subcommittee with his credentials. “I ranked very close to the top of the class of 206, I am a member of the national Honor Society and have received a four-year matriculation scholarship
to Illinois State University. Another red letter Robert Brenninger ended
his letter this way ” in closing, I wish to state that I attend church every Sunday and
do not smoke, drink, run around the street at all hours of the night. And yet read and now plead for a continuance of crime and horror in comics magazine, a fact which various groups set on abolishing
comics magazines seem to shun. sometimes letterwriters simply reminded
the subcommittee that although they may be children, that didn’t make them naive or
incompetent. We saw a couple of slides ago when Leslie
Hardy remarked that at age 14 he ought to be able to tell good from bad. Other writers commented that they were simply
average normal kids careful to position themselves as neither rebels nor psychopaths. My favorite variation on this theme came from a teenager when named Bryan Mulholland. After outing himself as an avid EC reader he
wrote to the Senators that he was “as honest and clean as you would want your own son to
be ” when I spoke with Brian a couple of years
ago he had just retired as an attorney and told me that he couldn’t have written a better
letter today. One of the aspects of studying these letters
that I found most valuable is discovering how some of EC’s most ardent fans the fan
addicts supported the letterwriting effort. It’s possible to trace for instance some of
the letters writers appears in letter columns and comics trading requests in the fan bulletins. For instance this is a trio with Norm Benedict. He told me a couple of years ago that he sold almost all of his ECs to pay for grad school but he wrote to the subcommittee and had a also had a letter published in ECs letters column and you can see his name here as well in the trading post. But there were others. Roy Thomas who many of you may recognize as
a longtime writer and editor for Marvel comics was a high schooler and EC fan addict number 19214 living in Missouri in 1954. He wrote the subcommittee giving them a lesson
about the different categories of comics. Delineating the differences among funny animals
superhero and other comic genres. More important he described his feared scenario should the Senate act to regulate comics. This is a long quote “somebody kills horror comics, horror and crime are related somewhat so crime dies next. With crime dies the heroes comics. Next come the people and kill cowboys. By this time Science Fiction is cut and romances
next teenagers follow then humor mags if they didn’t already go out with horror. Finally little Lulu and her animal friends
go. So please don’t start something that can end in even King Aroo and Li’l Abner disappearing from the comic page. Brandon Chesney pproudly told the subcommittee
that he had read over 200 of the comics under review. Based on his reading history he proposed that the Senate would better spend its time investigating the role that prostitution bars and substandard
housing played in investigating juvenile delinquency. Chesney remained active in fandom throughout
his life. He contributed original drawings and original
comics to underground collections and fan publications, including this cover in full
EC art style in Bill Spicer’s 1964 fan magazine. Bill Spicer is some convenient connective tissue here and although there’s no letter from him in the subcommittee’s collection he was a
fan addict contributing this cover art for an early 1950s fan theme published by fellow
teenager Bob Stewart and distributed nationally to a few dozen teen subscribers. Stewart who died two years ago was as loquacious
witty and thoughtful as a teenager as he was an adult. He parlayed his fan interest into a career
as a comic critic and reviewer and editor a licensing director, curator and underground cartoonist. In 1954 though Stewart simply wanted to help
the subcommittee understand fandom and the role that EC played in the lives of teen readers. I would be remiss not to mention the letter
from the E. Nelson Bridwell. Although he was in his early 20s when he wrote
to the subcommittee Bridwell is important here because like Bob Stewart he was central to
fandom and comics. A frequent contributor to ECs letter column,
Bridwell eventually wrote for the company’s MAD magazine before going on to a lengthy
career as a writer and editor for DC. His knowledge which was legendary is on display
here. In this letter among many other things he
ties the concerns about comics with historical concerns about dime novels and literary novels
in previous centuries. The final big-name fan and want to mention
is Bill Proctor. Those of you of a certain age may recognize
Phil is a founding member of the surrealistic comedy troupe Firesign Theater. In 1954 though, Phil was was 14 and he was fan addict
number 544 which is impressively low number he told me that the comic hearing helped
his interest in doing satire professionally. He said he wanted to spend his life ridiculing
quote the “blue nosed tight-assed censors asked sensors who tried to take his comics away from him ” his letter
to the subcommittee shows his early promise of you can tell me if you think that this wasn’t
a daring thing for a 14-year old to say to the Senate “read of one you assess and don’t look for blood
and gore. Read the story ” nearly 500 different letters me that there
are 500 different stories to tell. Actually more than that, since the number
of letters has multiple signers. There are so many more I could share with
you. Young married couples who wrote, mothers who shared their comics and some who didn’t with their kids .” some African-American readers, other letter-writers who learned something about racial tolerance from reading EC comics. and plenty of girls, including one who was an early race-car driver in North Carolina. At the end of the day it’s these stories that motivate me. Although I came at comics history from the
perspective of seeking to understand why and how librarians and teachers regulated young
people’s comics reading during the mid-20th century My work in the Senate subcommittee materials
together with related work in the Wertham papers at Library of Congress opened my mind
to more important possibilities. In 2010 when I first spent time on the Wertham
papers which had been closed to the public for nearly 30 years I realized relatively quickly
that he had abused the trust of the young people he treated. The young peoples whose stories formed the
intellectual core of this supposedly scientific seduction of the innocent. As I read through his notes and case studies
and other research materials I realized that Wertham had fabricated, exaggerated, invented,
misquoted, and generally failed to be upright in his treatment of young people stories. I wrote about some of what I found and it
brought me some unexpected notoriety which has been fun and rewarding, but even more
important, it showed me the value of thinking about comics readers and their stories. My work for the past few years has been focused
on finding ways to save, find and even tell comics readers stories. Because even though comics were the defining
product at least in terms of print in the mid-20th century almost no attention has been
paid to what comics meant to readers, how they thought about comics, and what they did
with comics. The letters here, which I have to tell you
are an amazing treasure, as well as other sources like memoirs, newspaper articles, reader surveys and fan letters, to folks like Milton Kniff and Walt Kelly and those are held at Ohio State University are helping me tell those stories. When I can I interview readers and to date
I’ve conducted about 30 interviews with readers who wrote either to Wertham or to the Senate when they were young. so what about the rest of the Senate subcommittee materials, there are lots related to comics. There are missing pieces. For instance only some of the questionnaires
and witness preparatory materials are present. Likewise correspondence between committee
members and other entities are absent. I noticed because I’ve seen it partially replicated
in other collections like the Wertham papers at the library of Congress and the national cartoonist Society papers
held at Ohio State University. I suspect that some materials are held in the personal collections of Senators Kevauver and Hendrickson at the University of Tennessee and Syracuse University respectively. There are some random gems in the subcommittee materials. For instance the collection includes a small
run of the comic magazine publishing report which gives useful information about on sale
dates and new titles. And I have to tell you these are almost impossible
to find outside of private collections. There are some lovely examples of letterheads from comics publishers such as this one Archie Comics. It also holds a couple of copies of the state
of Louisiana’s revenue comic book which was an interesting experiment. In making state financial information more
understandable. There were at least two issues published,
the only other copies I am aware of are in the state of Louisiana’s archives. You can also find the reading notes that the
subcommittee staffers compiled on various comics and it’s fun as a comics reader to
see how they summarize and describe the stories and counted up the violent deaths and killings
and how people died. And there is correspondence between the subcommittee and the comics code authority which is valuable in part because the authorities own documents is seem to have been tossed out in the past few years. Which brings me back to the letters from these
young writers. In many ways Donald Lowery the man whose letter
gave me the title of this talk “Dear Sirs I Believe You’re Wasting your Time ” Donald Lowery was right. The Senate subcommittee on juvenile delinquency
issued its report on comics in March 1955 concluding that there were those certain proof
of the relationship between a reading of crime and or comics and the incidence of juvenile
delinquency. The report recommended that parents, social welfare professionals, educational and psychological researchers comic books publishers
and others cooperate to investigate “the exact kind and degree of influence exerted on comics
by comic books on children’s behavior ” in addition the subcommittee urged as a national aim the elimination of “all materials that potentially exert detrimental effects”. That would be a lot. The subcommittee’s proposals meant little. As comics publishers had already banded together
to form the Comics Magazine Association of America the CMAA in September 1954. The CMAA created its own self-regulating
editorial practice the comics code Authority initially headed by judge Charles Murphy thus successfully avoiding federal intervention. Like the motion picture production code the
CCA carried no legal authority and publishers were not required to participate yet few publishers
could get their comics on to news stands without the CCA’s seal of approval. Scores of comic book titles ceased publication including the EC titles that resonated with so many young fans and letter-writers. Many publishers simply found it untenable
financially or creatively to meet the CCAs requirements. The comics code didn’t tolerate lust or gore
unsavory illustrations, attacks on authority figures, stories featuring vampires and werewolves
or curvy women or a myriad of other elements that had helped comics resonate with a generation
of children and teenagers. Comics readership, especially among young
people, began a decline the continued for decades. By the time I was growing up in 1970s I was
exception among my friends for being a comics reader. Although, kids reading comics today is less of an anomaly than it was 40 years ago. Comics have competition from so many other
forms of media and technologies. And I should note that the comics code was in
effect with modification through February 2011, so nearly 60 years. Two final notes. That Don Lowery kid, I believe Sirs you’re
wasting your time, he turned out okay. He served in the Air Force and eventually
went on to become a noted tabletop game designer and publisher. The second little footnote a couple of you
have already heard the story but yesterday I was sitting in the manuscripts reading room
at the Library of Congress and I just happened to stumble across Bob Stewart, the young man
who was editor of the EC fan bulletin and I stumbled across his fanzine Betresby number one which he sent to Wertham in 1954. I got to know Bob by phone, we spent a lot
of time speaking to one another in a year and a half or so before he died, and Bob told me multiple times that he had sent the copy to Wertham and he had corresponded and I don’t
know how much time I have spent working on the Wertham materials and it wasn’t until this trip that I happened upon it. I can tell you that like a lot of archival
research it was very serendipitous. I just happened to request a box that I hadn’t
requested before that I didn’t think I was going to find anything of value in. And there it was. The reason I bring this up is because in the closing pages of Betresby there was a note probably from Bob that mentioned that the Senate was having investigations
of comics and that there would be a further report in the next issue and I really think
that he probably couldn’t imagine nor could any of those readers imagine that in just a few months
all EC Comics would be gone off the news stands. So with that I will wrap up and I’m happy to take questions. [ Applause ]>>Audience member: Very fascinating story. I’m curious as an outsider about the missing corporate influence. That is where was Walt Disney where was Warner Brothers, Wiley Coyote was pretty violent too. Why isn’t he being attacked? Or is he?>>Dr. Tilley: He was. So Wertham certainly felt that Donald Duck
and Mickey Mouse and some of the Warner brothers properties like Bugs Bunny would qualify as a crime comic but those were licensed products that were published by Dell Comics and Dell was an entity unto
itself. It had such tremendous sales that it did not
feel threatened by these attacks on comics although it did amp up some of its internal
PR to help protect itself, but Dell’s vice president testified as a favorable witness
at the Senate hearing. So there was some immunity, in a sense. To concern with those properties.>>Audience member: Was there any response
either internally people writing memos to each other in the Senate or response to the
kids letters? What did they think about the letters that
were showing up?>>Dr. Tilley: That’s a great question Scott. There is some duplicates of correspondence that
the committee sent back. It’s interesting though because almost all
of the letter writers I’ve spoken to recall getting nothing from the Senate, not even
a postcard of acknowledgment. Although apparently they did send at least
letters to some writers. And usually it’s a fairly basic, “thank you
for your comments ” or simply an update about the hearing. And outside of — near the beginning — outside
of the compilation of information about letter writers — almost there — you can see they’ve
listed location and age if they knew and and maybe a note and you can see that almost all
of the correspondence they got was favorable. But at some point they even quit compiling this
list because this list basically has fewer than 300 letters listed and so there are several
hundred that are unaccounted for. And so at some point they just, I don’t think,
cared about the letters that they continued to receive.>>Audience member: My name is Rod Ross. I retired from the Center for Legislative Archives in April. Your talk was wonderful. I have a couple of questions that are really
general questions about the collection. I don’t remember any part of the collection
dealing with what one would consider causes of juvenile delinquency. Like substandard housing, Were there? did I miss them? Second. Can you describe the National Archives comic
collection how would you rate the other kinds of things and lastly were there other nations
in the world who had the same kind of interest in terms of prohibition on violent comics?>>Dr. Tilley: I’ll work backwards and say yes
that many countries at different times, including for the 1940s on did have social and cultural
interest in violence in comics. So in the postwar years for instance in Germany
there were concerns that about the importation of American comics, that they were too totalitarian or
fascist especially in the superhero comics. And throughout Europe including South America
Australia, even in Japan at different times there have been concerns about comics and
violence. So every country has handled a little bit
different. There are still bans, for instance, in England
on horror comics and there are still restrictions on certain types of literature in New Zealand,
for instance, so there are places where this is an issue. The second question about the Senate comics
collection I would love to answer except I have not ever been able to see the comics. So I’ve requested a couple of times but I
haven’t been permitted to see them. The other thing I would say about —
just forgot what your first question was — oh yes, thank you. Actually yes there are questionnaires that
were sent and interviews that were sent to folks like probation officers, juvenile court judges,
and social workers, and were solicited from communities nationally. And what you find in that is that most of
the responses that the Senate got the comics aren’t an issue. And they list lots of other things. Sometimes it’s the beginning of drug culture, very minimally usually marijuana sometimes it’s petty crime and parental issues, but comics
are seldom listed as a significant influence. And I didn’t mean — I would love to see the
Senate comics someday.>>Audience member: I’m noticing your list
here that all the letters on the list are from New York City and I’m sure not all of
them were from York. Was there a noticeable regional pattern
to them?>>Dr. Tilley: You know they really came from
everywhere. I haven’t done the geographical demographic
for the letters. What they did, why you’re seeing New York
here is one of the staffers apparently grouped everything they had at one particular time
by state and region so when they made the list you go down and see all the letters are from Indiana, for Instance or New York. But I can’t think, there were letters from
Hawaii, there were letters from Texas and Washington state and California, all over the
central plains areas. So I can’t think of a region that wasn’t represented. And were there even a couple of letters that came
from the Philippines I think. There may be a couple of other international letters.>>Audience member: Just to piggyback on what
you had talked about international. A lot of the international nations like Canada,
Great Britain a Germanyl was not just stuff being horrible and corrupt the youth but also
the fear of American dominance in their cultural stuff so they didn’t want their comic industry
to be killed by the American comic industry basically. So part of it is driven by that too. I forgot my question now [ Laughter ] Great talk…>>Dr. Tilley: Thank you.>>Audience member: I’m wondering about Estes Kevauver I seem to remember he got fame later for going after the mob is he just in general grandstanding guy was this
>>Dr. Tilley: The mob it was at the 1950 hearing. That was how he got into all of it. But he had grand political ambitions and unfortunately
died before he could have a chance perhaps to see those through. I don’t have it in this pack but I have an
image a really poor copy from an newspaper from from 1956 newspaper he was with his wife
and three daughters arrayed around them and all the daughters are reading comics and I love it. And it’s interesting because the photo — it’s
blurry but good enough that you can see the titles and I checked and they’re all Dell and
Fawcett comic books from the Senate hearings I believe. He may have taken a few home [ Laughter ]>>Audience member: In this day and age normally we would expect certain groups to come to defense of the comic book publishers and if I remember correctly from
the hearings people like Kniff and Kelly weren’t particularly kind to the comic book industry
part and parcel it was believed to protect themselves from anything in the comic strip
world. And keep the senators away from them. So where — for example is the ACLU during all this? Apparently nowhere to be found I guess.>>Dr. Tilley: The ACLU was silent. The American Library Association, which today is a voice for intellectual freedom and against censorship, was silent. It’s interesting the national cartoonist Society, you are absolutely right they were, they testified, Milton Kniff and Walt Kelly did, and they were very clear
to delineate that there was something different about newspaper comics strips then there was
about comic books. And they wanted to be sure that the Senate
didn’t come after comics strips. Now they curried a lot of favor. And it’s interesting because they actually
agreed, and I’m still sort of sorting this out but they agreed to cooperate with some of the Senate subcommittee on investigations of some cartoonists. And I think it’s mostly related to one single
cartoonist. They also were very clever to invite some
of the committee members and staff to the national cartoonist Society dinners and they
attended. [ Laughter ] So they knew what was going on. And there were some other bits like that that
showed that there was a strong preference politically for newspaper comic strips. They had been able to organize and come forward
that was recognized.>>Audience member: Carol thank you so much
this was a very enlightening talking you’ve demonstrated as our other scholars about the surprising stories in those miles of boxes we have upstairs.>>Dr. Tilley: Even more to find. Thank you all for coming [ Applause ]

Tagged , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *